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The New US Immigration Bill Seeks to Allow Dual Intent for International Students

After assuming office in January, President Joe Biden announced significant changes to the United States’ (US) immigration policy. Now months into his presidency, President Biden and his administration are executing the changes promised through a new immigration bill. The proposed bill has provisions that will particularly benefit business immigrants as well as international students already studying in the US and those aspiring to study there.

There are many clauses worth attention to, for international students, however, one of the provisions that stand out is the dual intention provision. Dual intention, if recognised would not only brighten the prospects of international students to stay back and later settle down in the US but would also cut down paperwork and abate the risk of visa rejection. In a fast-changing US political landscape, it is important to look into Biden’s immigration policy as well as explore the dual intent clause of the bill and delve into its implications for aspiring students.

US immigration policy under President Biden

President Biden had been critical of his predecessor, Donald Trump’s immigration policies throughout the latter’s presidency. He had also criticized Trump’s decision to build a wall on the southern border of the US and his treatment of undocumented people. Biden had insisted that those living in the US should be given an opportunity to earn citizenship and not be cast out irrationally. Not surprisingly, on the day Biden took over the reins of the country, he shared his intention to “restore humanity and American values” to the immigration system through the means of a new immigration bill. He insisted that the intention of the new immigration policy was to stimulate the US economy and ensure that those employed are protected. The US Citizenship Act of 2021 is his attempt to manage migration in a better way.

Senator Bob Menendez and representative Linda Sanchez formally introduced the US Citizenship Act of 2021 in February. The act can provide a means for employers to hire and retain their employees who are foreign nationals. The act is expected to have a bearing not only on business immigration and employment rules but also the guidelines under which student visas are granted. Under its provisions, those who graduate from US universities with doctoral degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) would be eligible to directly apply for a green card. Introducing a new green card program, which would not have limitations, would bring about this change. To aid this process country caps on green cards would also be reconsidered.

Moreover, the bill seeks to abolish per-country caps for employment-based immigrants. This would particularly benefit Indian and Chinese employees who face immense problems when applying for green cards and have to deal with significant delays due to backlogs and caps. There is another important provision of the act that deserves attention especially in the context of aspiring international students, it is called the dual intent clause.

Dual Intent

Marking a momentous change from the present rule on granting of F-1 visas, the new bill in section 3408 seeks to acknowledge the intention of students to stay, settle and work in the US. F-1 or academic student visas are given to those entering the US as full-time students at accredited institutions of learning including colleges, universities, and high schools. According to the present rule, a person seeking the visa has to show their intention to return back to their country of citizenship after completing the degree, meaning that they can only have a ‘single intent’. However, the proposed bill would allow the seeker to harbour ‘dual intentions’ whereby those eligible could apply for permanent residence status after they finish their studies.

Dual intent would help international students in many ways. Students would no longer have to provide evidence of their intention to return back to their home country. Presently, students have to submit documentary proof of possessing property and other assets of value in their home country while submitting their F-1 visa applications. The details required are strict and tedious which often result in mistakes and subsequent rejection of visas.

This move would encourage students to apply to US universities as providing documentary proof is often a deal-breaker for international students. Studies suggest that consular officers’ suspicion of applicants aspiring to stay back in the US and not return to their country of origin after finishing their education, is the biggest reason for visa denials. In fact, among ten non-immigrant visa rejections, nine get rejected, because those reviewing the application are not convinced about the applicant’s intent to return.

Impediments and the way ahead

Through the 353 pages long the US Citizenship Act of 2021, President Biden has conveyed his intentions to significantly change US’ immigration policy. He has conveyed that he views immigrants with compassion and understands the international students as strategic assets, who possess the potential of providing the US economy with a new impetus.

While his bill talks about various progressive provisions like special privileges for STEM researchers, acknowledgment of dual intention for international students as well as the extension of the optional practical training (OPT), his administration has also attempted to make the language of the document inclusive. His discomfort with the existing policy and acts can be seen by small gestures like amending the existing act and replacing the word ‘alien’, which has been used for years with ‘non-citizen’. Nevertheless, Congress might not pass the proposed bill without changes. Particularly the Republicans are expected to raise objections on various provisions of the bill.

Thus, as the discussion on the US Citizenship Act progresses, international students, as well as business immigrants, would have to follow the developments and keep a curious eye on the relevant provisions as their settlement prospects are certainly going to brighten.

Date added
12.03.2021

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Global News and Perspectives

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